Rolling seven

Sunday the DNT had a story with the pros of a Seventh Hour Day and the many caveats and fears being thrown out to slow down instituting it next September.

Emotionally I side with Alanna Oswald. I am angry with myself for fretting along with foot dragging former Chair Harala about rushing to fully institute it. That’s why last month I offered up a motion to grease the wheels by giving the two western middle schools “more resources” meaning money for next year to demonstrate that our School Board is no longer inclined toward benign neglect.

I’ll share this email to the Board from Tom Tusken’s evaluation of the Trib’s seventh period day story:

Dear School Board and District Administration:

I feel compelled to write based on my unresolved feelings generated by the article in today’s Duluth News Tribune, “Seventh period: the answer?” While I was able to contribute to the article, I was unsatisfied by what I read as a whole.

Do we have an itemized list of costs associated with adding a seven period day? Why will it cost $2.6 million? Numbers get shared with no supporting documentation. I apologize if I missed the details at a recent school board meeting.

Seven periods may not be the best practice, but if it is not, where is the urgency of the school district to research and implement something different right now?

It feels like without recent efforts to call attention to our the lack of success in our western schools that this would not be a conversation at all. The district should have researched a different model before cutting the seventh period in the first place, not start that process many years later. The inaction has increased the level of urgency and causes me to feel impatient. Can the structure of our school day be explored now over the next few months and implemented in the fall? I do not want to see another bureaucratic process that takes too long and uses too many resources to reach a decision. Models can be researched online and site visits can happen this spring. While our competitors like North Star enjoy streamlined decision making and less bureaucracy, we move at a glacial pace and lose students while we do.

To be honest, it won’t matter if we make a change based on research or not if whatever is chosen is not implemented with fidelity, accountability and plenty of training. Case in point, I do not think there is any evidence or at least any I have seen or that has been shared to support our continued commitment to PLCs or WIN and PLCs are a research based best practice. PLCs have not been provided enough training, direction or accountability to be effective as intended. The same is true for WIN. I think both could be great but not as they are currently being implemented. At this point, based on the lack of success I see with both of those initiatives, I would suggest that they are both temporarily suspended in an effort to bring the 7 period day back (even temporarily) to Denfeld next fall. We should not say that we cannot pursue returning to a 7 period day due to a lack of evidence when we are currently doing so with PLCs, WIN and other initiatives.

I suggest reinstating 6th assignments for teachers so they can be used in different ways around the building including their participation on grade level teams. These teams (See Building Assets Reducing Risks-BARR ) would meet in place of curriculum based PLCs that we now have. Denfeld used BARR in the past for 9th grade with success and staff members are attending training this spring to potentially implement this for the whole school in the fall. In addition, take the 30 minutes we use for WIN and add 18 minutes to our current day and we could have our 7 periods back. Yes, I understand the union would need to agree to this and other logistics and budgetary trade-offs would have to be explored.

We do addition by subtraction at Duluth Public Schools. We cut the 7 period day to save money and end up losing families to other districts because of it. We watch as other districts send buses into ours without aggressively working to get those students back or attract others by funding a bus to drive into their communities. The budget is always cited as a reason why, but we never look for opportunities to spend our scarce resources to actually do things that will make us more competitive and reverse the tide. The 7 period day is one way to take a first step, even if that means it does not happen at every secondary school. Yes, that is not equal, it is equitable. Give Denfeld a tool to begin attracting families back while the research takes place for a permanent fix.

Thank you for your time and consideration and for providing an itemized list of expenses associated with adding the 7 period day back.